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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bengal assures Sikkim of smooth traffic - Flout groups to face action for blockades

TT, Gangtok, Feb. 26: Bengal chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti today assured the Sikkim government that no stones would be left unturned to keep NH31A open at all times under instruction from the Supreme Court.
The national highway is the only arterial route linking the Himalayan state to the rest of the country.
“We assure you that we will try our level best so that the directive issued by the Supreme Court to keep NH31A open is followed. Any group that flouts the order will face legal action and everybody has to cooperate with the order of the apex court,” Chakrabarti told The Telegraph during the tea break in the three-hour session with Sikkim chief secretary T.T. Dorji and senior officials at Chintan Bhavan today. 
In recent times, frequent bandhs and agitation by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in Darjeeling district have hit traffic on NH31A. For that matter, any agitation in the Bengal district adjoining Sikkim, affects traffic on the national highway.Replying to queries on security on NH31A to ensure smooth connectivity, Chakrabarti iterated that the directives of the apex court not to allow disruption on the highway had to be followed in principle. “If anybody violates the Supreme Court order, they will have to go to jail,” said Chakrabarti.
“The Union and the Bengal governments are rather disturbed over the fact that in the last five to six months there have been incidents of traffic disruptions on NH31A which is the lifeline of Sikkim,” Chakrabarti said.“Sikkim gets its essential commodities by road and people travel to Siliguri to catch flights and trains. Disruptions along the highway cause immense problems for the Sikkimese,” he said. He added that all security arrangements were in place to ensure that there were no traffic disruptions. Three companies of the CPRF have been deployed from Tuesday at various points along NH31A passing through Bengal to Sikkim.The Bengal chief secretary said a decision had been taken on February 3 in New Delhi to hold a meeting in Gangtok to discuss NH31A and three projects related to the highway. The projects include the widening of the national highway and construction of an alternative road from Rhenock in East Sikkim to Chalsa in Bengal.
“These road projects were delayed in certain areas and a lot of time was taken for forest clearances. We have discussed them and some decisions have been taken to expedite the projects,” Chakrabarti said.Every Tuesday, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and the forest and the land acquisition officials will meet in Siliguri to resolve the bottlenecks of the projects. The BRO would send its representatives to Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri district magistrates regularly to pursue the formalities for forest clearance.“The meeting was to expedite the process by achieving proper co-ordination at all levels,” Chakrabarti’s counterpart Dorji said. He said the BRO’s top priority was to tackle the troublesome spots hit by constant rock falls and sinking zones on NH31A. Once these spots were attended to, the remaining areas would be taken care of, he added.
The Bengal delegation also comprised the inspector-general of police, north Bengal, K.L. Tamta, the Darjeeling superintendent of police, D.P. Singh, and the district magistrates of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri, Surendra Gupta and Vandana Yadav.Representatives from the Union ministry of surface transport and forests also attended the meeting. The Sikkim side included the director-general of police, C.M. Ravindran, the inspector-general of police (law and order), S.D. Negi, principal secretary (home) Jasbir Singh and BRO Project Swastik’s chief engineer Brigadier R.K. Patyal and representatives of the army.
‘Ban’ on vehicles off
The Gorkha Janmukti Vidyarthi Morcha has decided to lift its “ban” on movement of police and government vehicles from tomorrow, reports our Darjeeling correspondent. “We have decided to lift the ban taking into account the Sukna episode. The police and administration have to move around. Moreover, the parent party (Gorkha Janmukti Morcha) has already called for a jail bharo agitation,” said Amrit Yonzone, the vice-president of the Vidyarthi Morcha.The students had imposed the “ban” on February 5 after a gathering of Youth Morcha supporters was lathicharged. The Morcha members were demanding permission to hold a public meeting in Siliguri. On February 21, a mob demanding the immediate arrest of an alleged murderer, had set on fire the Sukna police outpost.
Poster game after death in MLA family 
TT, Darjeeling, Feb. 26: A poster signed by “Gorkhaland loving people” appeared in town this morning, announcing that loyalists of the separate state movement would not attend the funeral of the Kurseong MLA’s husband who died last night.Deo Chandra Karki, 53, had been ailing for sometime and breathed his last at the Kurseong subdivisional hospital.The poster that appears to have been put up at 6am reads: “Yesterday, Deo Chandra Karki, husband of anti-Gorkhaland MLA from Kurseong, Shanta Chhetri, died. We, the Gorkhaland loving people, will not attend the funeral.” It was signed by “Gorkhaland loving people”.
After fingers were pointed at the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha which had chased away most of the GNLF leaders from the hills, including Chhetri, Gurung’s party put up a counter-poster at 9am, “protesting” the one plastered by people “trying to derail our Gandhian movement”.“We protest the poster plastered by Gorkhaland loving people. These are people who are merely trying to derail the Gandhian movement,” the poster put up by the Morcha’s Kurseong sub-divisional committee read.Chhetri’s house had been torched and the Kurseong police station attacked on February 18. Chhetri had blamed the Morcha without naming Bimal Gurung’s party. 
The Morcha had denied the allegations.After the arson, Chhetri had spent the night at the hospital along with her son and daughter-in-law, before moving in to a relative’s house. “The last rites could not even take place at my house. They torched my house. I have lost everything now,” a sobbing Chhetri said over the phone. The body was taken to Gauri Shankar tea garden below Giddepahar, about 8km from Kurseong, which is Karki's native place. By 2pm, when the funeral took place, about a thousand people had visited Chhetri family to express their condolence.Karki, an employee with the Public Health Engineering department, was also an All India Radio-approved singer and a tabla player.On August 18, 2008, GNLF chief Subash Ghisingh could not bring his wife’s body to the hills for cremation after she died at a private nursing home in Siliguri. Even then fingers had been pointed at the Morcha. The party had denied the allegations and had said it was the “public” who did not allow Ghisingh to come to the hills.
Charge of cop excess & demand for freedom
TT, Siliguri, Feb. 26: The Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) and the Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh today alleged that police had rampaged through Sukna after a police outpost there had been torched on February 21 and demanded action against the law enforcers responsible for the excesses.A team comprising members of the APDR and the Parisangh — an apolitical body of Gorkhas — today visited Sukna, 10km from here, and demanded the release of all those who had been arrested in connection with the arson.Eighteen people were arrested from Sukna after a mob demanding the arrest of a murder accused had set the outpost on fire.
“We went there today to verify the allegations levelled by several residents that police had resorted to indiscriminate arrests and ransacked houses and shops on Sunday night,” said Abhiranjan Bhaduri, the Darjeeling district secretary of the APDR. “The team spoke to the family members of the arrested people and found that after the arson, the police had picked up men and women indiscriminately.”He alleged that innocent women had been dragged out of their homes and thrown into police vans. “They were beaten up when they tried to protest. This is blatant violation of law. 
We demand that the arrested people be released immediately and action be taken against policemen responsible for the incident.”Bhaduri also alleged that the police had smashed windowpanes of the houses, ransacked shops and damaged vehicles. “An 80-year-old woman named Chandrakumari Rai told us that her daughter, son, daughter-in-law and employees serving at an eatery run by the family had all been picked up by the police.”Bhaduri also said even patients had not been spared. “Damayanti Thapa, who had been operated on 10 days back and was recuperating, was also arrested.”He said the office-bearers of both the organisations, armed with photographs and other evidence of police excesses, would meet senior district officials and demand the release of the arrested people.Sukhman Moktan, the secretary-general of the Parisangh, echoed Bhaduri. “After the raids and random arrests by the police, Sukna has been shut down with life being far from normal. The men have left their homes to evade arrests, while the women are too fearful to open shops.”The police, he said, should free all the arrested and refrain from targeting others at Sukna.
Hill tea touches nadir in decades - Low yield for Less rain & slump 
TT, Darjeeling, Feb. 26: Production of Darjeeling Tea has hit an all-time low largely because of the vagaries of nature and the global meltdown.From a record high of 14 million kg of tea annually in the early 1980s, the production has come down to 7.8 million kg in 2009. In 2008, the figure was 8.2 million kg.Ramesh Kumar Boruah, the advisory officer of the Tea Research Association (Darjeeling), said: 
“Over the past decade, we find that the hills have been receiving almost 18 to 20 per cent less rain which is unevenly spread.”Citing the example of Sonada valley, which has around six gardens, Boruah said: “In 1990-91, the valley had received 3,579mm of rain. In 2008-09, the rainfall was 2,529mm.”Tea bushes require sustained and uniform water for better yield. “We have noticed that wind velocity has increased and the humidity level has gone down. 
The disparity in rainfall is such that its difference can be around two inches in adjoining areas,” Boruah added.Despite less rainfall in the hills, the region had experienced up to 20 inches of rain in a single day in 2009 during Cyclone Aila. Such torrential rain is of no good to the bushes, industry officials said. “The water cannot be retained but the top soil with all its nutrients gets washed off. Chances of landslide also increase,” said Sandeep Mukherjee, secretary, Darjeeling Tea Association.Darjeeling Tea is also reeling from poor prices following the global meltdown. “Darjeeling exports around 60 per cent of its produce. 
However, we are not getting the desired prices,” said Mukherjee.The cost of producing a kilogram of tea is estimated to be between Rs 240 and Rs 310 for organic gardens and Rs 170-180 for non-organic estates. Of the 87 registered gardens in the hills which can sell their produce as Darjeeling Tea, almost 60 per cent are already organic or are on the verge of conversion.Experts also cite the failure to replant tea bushes as a reason for production fall. “Many of the gardens have bushes which are 100 to 140 years old. Old bushes do not yield as much as young ones,” Boruah said. The Tea Board of India and the TRA have recommended that at least 2.5 per cent of the plantation area should be replanted every year. Last year the industry could undertake this task only in 0.67 per cent of the plantation area. The total plantation area of Darjeeling Tea is 17,500 hectares.

Mild tremor
TT, Siliguri: A mild tremor was felt in parts of north Bengal at 10.12am on Friday. The intensity of the quake that originated at Western Xizang in China was 5.4 on the Richter scale, experts said. It lasted for four seconds. The epicentre is located 249km away from here. No major damage has been reported.
Bengal Governor visits EFR  unit at Salua
Former NSA says never advised state govt on anti-Naxal operations
IE, Salua, 27 Feb: Denying he ever advised Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on anti-Naxal operations, former National Security Advisor and West Bengal Governor M K Narayanan today met the jawans of Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) personnel and their family members at Salua in Kharagpur and said being a former policeman himself, he had come here in a “spirit of atonement”.
PeopleThe state paramilitary force lost 24 of its jawans on February 15 when heavily armed Maoists swooped on its Silda camp to launch a deadly attack.
In a brief interaction with the media after meeting the bereaved family members of the slain EFR personnel, the Governor said: “I am here not to do an assessment of the situation. There is no effort on our part to do an assessment. But whatever I have seen and understood, I will pass it on to the chief minister and other ministers. Our main aim is to avoid similar tragedy.”
Narayanan dismissed reports he was advising the government on anti-Maoist operations in the state. “I have not given any advice to the government on the anti-Maoist operation. But I had discussion with the chief minister on the issue,” he said.
“I have come here to meet the families of the slain jawans. This is a heart-wrenching moment. It is a matter of poignancy and it has to be addressed with a spirit of atonement,” said Narayanan, adding the
family members of the deceased jawans have reasonable demands.
Sona Subba, wife of Madhukar Subba, one of the slain jawans, said, “Governor gave us a patient hearing. He assured us all our demands would be fulfilled. Four of the primary schools will be converted to higher secondary schools. The hospital will have permanent doctors and our residential complex will soon get a boundary wall.”
Petrol, diesel prices hiked
Sujay Mehdudia, TH,
NEW DELHI: The oil marketing companies have announced a hike in petrol price by Rs. 2.71 a litre and diesel price by Rs. 2.55 with effect from midnight on Friday night, after Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee juggled customs and excise duties in the Union budget. He also imposed a 5 per cent customs duty on crude import.
Now, petrol price in Delhi will go up from Rs. 44.72 to Rs. 47.43 a litre and diesel price to Rs. 5.47, as indirect tax proposals come into effect immediately.
This follows the hike in customs duty on petrol and diesel from 2.5 to 7.5 per cent, and in excise duty by Re. 1 a litre to Rs. 14.35 and by Rs. 4.60 a litre on non-branded (normal) petrol and diesel respectively.

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